Much the same way her friends had, Kelli Lockhart examined the confines of her cell to determine her situation. She was almost to the door when it began to open; she took a step backward. Her eyes grew wide with disbelief when she saw what had entered.
Walking playing cards armed with spears and carrying unlit torches entered her cell. She didn’t know which surprised her more, the living cards, or the fact that their unlit torches gave off light.
“The master bids you accompany us,” a jack of spades said.
“Talk about going through the looking glass,” Kelli whispered, although it came out more like a shout.
The playing cards were a bit taken back by her outburst, and leveled their spears in her direction.
Kelli raised her hands and apologized. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to yell.”
The jack of spades nodded, and the others lowered their weapons.
Kelli moved toward the door.
The cards moved to surround her when, without warning, a strong gust of wind caught the card men and blew them up against the back wall. Kelli dropped to the floor, unsure of what she should do. When she heard her guards groaning, she looked up. Standing in the doorway, T.J. Dalton, wearing his hood, and Lazarus Lane were shaking hands.
Stepping inside the cell, both men reached down to help her up; Kelli accepted both hands.
The trio left the cell, and Lazarus pushed the door, too, but didn’t try to lock it. A brief explanation, and Kelli understood what her two friends had already figured out.
“Nice dress, by the way,” T.J. commented.
Kelli looked down. “I guess,” she replied. “Have you seen any other humans around here?”
“No, why?” Lazarus asked.
“Because I didn’t dress myself,” the girl said. “I awoke to find myself in that cell wearing this dress. A Professor Van… something spoke to me from another room, and when I asked him about my clothes, he told me it was ‘not gentlemanly,’ and that servants had done the changing.”
“Then, we need to find this professor and see what’s going on,” T.J. said.
“First,” Kelli said, “we need to find Richard.”
“So,” Doctor Occult said, “have you ever made any attempts at escaping?”
“Once,” Robbie the Robotdog replied. “I charged the door, but all I got for my trouble was a bent earpiece. I have heard guards pass by, but no one has bothered to check on me since the professor realized that I was not a real dog.”
Richard Occult began to check his pockets, as if he had just remembered something important.
“Lose something, Doc?”
“Just checking to see if our jailer took any of my stuff. Ah, here it is.”
“Did you find something that could help us get out of here?” Robbie asked.
“Quite possibly,” Richard said. “If the Symbol of the Seven still works in this dimension.”
Focusing his mind and his energy, Richard began to chant softly, and the hand holding the round red-and-black disk stretched out toward the door. Under normal circumstances, he would have just held the disk out and willed something to happen. Since he was in an unfamiliar dimension, however, he decided that a more precise attempt to call upon the power would be safer.
The robot dog waited patiently for something to happen.
Almost a minute passed, and nothing.
“I don’t understand it,” Richard said. “It’s like watching a snowstorm through a window; you can feel the cold, but you can’t touch the snow. I can feel the mystical energy, but I can’t seem to grasp hold of it.”
“You’re way beyond me,” Robbie said. “I’ll take science over voodoo any day.”
Richard was only mildly offended at the robot’s comment, but under the circumstances, it was hard to disagree with him.
“It’s not as easy as it seems in storybooks,” Richard told him. “You can’t just say ‘open sesame’ and expect…”
Before he could finish his sentence, the cell door began to swing open.
“You were saying?” Robbie said.
“But… magic doesn’t work like that.”
“I guess it does here,” the dog said.
The conversation quickly died when Kelli stepped through the open door. “Who’s your friend?” she asked.
Robbie introduced himself as he trotted toward the door. “I’m Robbie the Robotdog.”
Richard was so relieved to see his friends that he gave them each a hug. “Thanks for letting us out.”
“The door was already opening when we approached,” Lazarus told him. “We just happened to hear you talking.”
Robbie looked up at Richard. “Science,” was all he said.
Charleston, South Carolina:
“I’m looking for Detective Brian Walker.”
The desk sergeant looked up and started to choke on the drink of coffee he had just taken. A yellow-gloved hand reached across the desk and patted him on the back. The surprised officer held up his hand to indicate that he was better.
“You… you’re Doctor Fate,” he said when he could breathe again.
Beneath his golden helmet, the composite being composed of Kent and Inza Nelson smiled; this was an effect he and his friends often had on people. “Yes, I am. Is Detective Walker here?”
The sergeant called one of the other officers over to cover the desk. This was one visitor he decided to personally escort wherever he needed to go.
“This way,” he said.
Brian heard the murmurs before his visitor arrived. He was no less surprised than the desk sergeant to see one of the Justice Society’s top dogs coming toward him. He stood up and extended his hand.
Doctor Fate accepted the man’s hand. “Detective Walker, we need to talk.”
“John,” Brian said to the sergeant, “I’ll be in interview room one if anyone needs me.”
Moments later, the two men were deep in conversation.
After explaining the dream, Doctor Fate asked the detective if he knew where Doctor Occult had gone.
“He, T.J., and Kelli took the Red Torpedo to Spain,” Brian said. “They were going to investigate the possibility of Lazarus Lane — El Diablo — still being alive.”
“El Diablo?” Fate asked.
“A cowboy who, according to his journal, was destined to battle evil. Richard stumbled across Mr. Lane’s journal in an old bookstore, and couldn’t shake the feeling that he needed to find him.”
“Hourman told me of your abilities,” Doctor Fate said. “Would you care to join me on a trip to Spain?”
“Let me tell the captain that I’ll be taking some leave,” Brian said. “I’ll have to get a change of clothes and my passport from home.”
“Let me talk to your captain,” Doctor Fate said. “I’ll tell him you are needed for a special mission.”
“Sounds good to me.” Despite his light-heartedness, Brian couldn’t help but worry that something was terribly wrong.
Three levels above the dungeons, Professor Van Ish paced back and forth; nearby, a tripod-mounted spyglass stood facing out a window.
“I have searched throughout the entire castle, and have yet to find an unbroken mirror. Unbroken,” the old man said.
The spyglass spun toward the professor and blinked. “I spy nothing yet, Master,” it said. “Are you sure she’s coming?”
“Of course she’s coming,” the professor replied. “Where, oh where, are you, my marvelous Mary? Marvelous Mary Marvel. It isn’t like her to not pursue me. Pursue me. Keep looking. Looking.”
As the spyglass turned its attention back to the window, searching the green skies and the blue fields, a jack of hearts burst into the room.
“Escaped,” it said, over and over.
“Who has escaped?” Van Ish asked.
“Find them and bring them here. Here,” the professor said.
After the card left, Van Ish put his arms behind his back and began to pace once more. “If they have escaped the dungeon, then perhaps they may be able to escape from this realm. Perhaps. And, perhaps they might be persuaded to take me with them. Perhaps.”
“Master!” the spyglass cried out. In its excitement, it spun toward the professor too fast and made four complete circuits before finally coming to a stop. “Whoa,” it said, feeling somewhat dizzy.
“What is it?” Van Ish asked, rushing toward the window.
“It’s Morgauth,” the spyglass said. “He’s attacking the castle.”
Looking out the window, the professor saw that his mortal enemy, the dread Morgauth, was cresting one of the distant hills. The expression on his face left no doubt as to where he was headed and what was on his mind.
“Oh, my marvelous Mary Marvel. Where are you when I need you? When I need you?”
Near the open door, a second jack of hearts stood.
In the dungeon, the reunited team, along with Robbie the Robotdog, was surprised to see a jack of hearts coming toward them. As they prepared to fight their way to freedom, the card suddenly threw its spear on the ground at their feet.
“Come,” it said, beckoning them to follow with its thin hands. It turned to go, but when it realized that it was not being followed, it turned back to the escaped prisoners. “Come.”
Looking at each other, not quite certain if they were being led into a trap, the group began to discuss what they should do. Confident in their own abilities, they had just decided to follow the card when a second jack rounded the corner and slammed into the first jack.
“Hurry,” it said. “Morgauth!”
“Morgauth?” T.J. repeated. “Maybe that means ‘hurry faster’ in their language?”
Kelli studied the actions of the two jacks and began to shake her head. “I don’t think so.” The excited sounds of playing cards running and shouting from all directions seemed to confirm her suspicions.
“I think this Morgauth is attacking,” she said.
“Yes!” the newly arrived jack replied. “The master seeks your help.”
All eyes turned to Richard, and he knew they were looking to him for leadership. Despite the fact that they had been placed in cells, he knew that his friends would not turn down anyone in need of help. He looked at the jacks. “Lead on.”
Doctor Fate and Brian Walker were surprised to find Ville waiting for them on the stoop the moment they appeared. The diminutive butler bowed at the waist, then pushed the front door open.
“This way, please,” Ville said. “Mr. Roarke is waiting for you on the veranda.”
The retired television star wore a white suit, similar to what he had worn on Isle of Fantasies. He stood as his guests approached. “Welcome, Doctor Fate,” Ricardo said. “And you must be Detective Walker; Richard spoke very highly of you.”
After shaking Ricardo’s hand, the two men sat down.
“So,” Ricardo said, “I assume you are here about your friends.”
“Yes,” Fate said.
“Perhaps you would like something to drink as we speak?”
Before either of his guests could respond, Ville suddenly appeared (Brian hadn’t even noticed the diminutive butler leave) bearing a pitcher and three glasses. He set the tray on the table and left once more.
Fate removed his helmet as Ricardo poured them each a glass of ice-cold water, revealing Kent’s features; as a being that was a mixture of male and female, Kent and Inza could choose how much Fate looked like either of them, and it was usually safer to keep Fate looking like Kent — most of the time.
“I have heard many good things about you from a mutual friend,” the actor said, addressing Doctor Fate.
Fate raised his eyebrows as he accepted the glass. “Oh, that’s right. You knew Zatara.”
Ricardo nodded. “Giovanni was a good man.” To Brian, he said, “You seem surprised that I know of my friend’s double life.”
“Only mildly,” Brian said. “After some of the things I’ve seen since meeting Richard, it takes a bit more than that to really throw me off.”
“Would it surprise you to find out that I, too, am one of the guardians of the mystic?” Ricardo asked.
Brian laughed. “I stand corrected.”
“I am a guardian of the mirrors,” the older man said. “I’ll admit that it isn’t as glamorous as what Doctor Fate and your friend Richard do, but it has it purpose.”
“Mr. Roarke is one of a group of individuals that act as custodians who monitor the use of magical mirrors as pathways to various dimensions,” Fate said before taking another drink of water.
“I was until last night,” Ricardo said.
“So, it’s true?” Fate asked.
“Yes. Ville woke me in the middle of the night after hearing breaking glass,” Ricardo said. “When we opened the door, we discovered that all of the mirrors were broken.”
“I’m not sure I understand,” Brian said.
“It means that your friends are trapped in a different dimension,” Ricardo told him. “I’m afraid I can be of little assistance to you. I can give you a warning. I believe that an extra-dimensional being called Morgauth is involved.”
Brian looked to Doctor Fate, unsure of what they should do.
“Think Wotan with an attitude problem,” Doctor Fate said. “If Richard has encountered him, we could definitely use some help.”
Ville was suddenly present again. He produced a folded piece of paper from an inside jacket pocket and handed it to Doctor Fate.
“That has the name of someone who might be able to help you,” Roarke said.
Doctor Fate unfolded the slip of paper, looked at the name, and then handed the paper to Brian.
“Gee,” Brian said, after looking at the name. “I certainly hope Hong Kong is nice this time of year.”
Professor Van Ish was still pacing when the jacks of hearts entered with the ex-prisoners. Immediately, the man fell to apologizing for the mistake, and begged for help.
“Why is this Morgauth attacking you?” Richard asked.
The professor grabbed Doctor Occult by the sleeve and pulled him toward the window. “I don’t know. Don’t know.”
The others followed and soon got their first look at Morgauth. It was a sight that none of them were prepared for.
Morgauth stood an easy thirty feet tall. While his basic shape was bipedal, hundreds of tentacles seemed to be bursting forth from his chest and abdomen. Each tentacle was covered with elongated mouths filled with rows of razor-sharp teeth, and ended in barbed hooks dripping a caustic, black ichor. His head rested directly on his shoulders with no visible neck supporting it. It reminded those who saw it of melted wax, although it was filled with eyes of all shapes and sizes, capable of seeing every direction at once. Legs as thick as oaks carried the monster across the landscape in great strides, each one appearing to be covered in the same melted wax that made up Morgauth’s head. From top to bottom, the creature had no real color, only shades of mottled gray, like something from an old black-and-white movie. As it drew ever nearer to the castle, the multitude of mouths cried out in a disjointed chorus of high-pitched squeals.
“My God!” Kelli gasped, turning away from the sight and burying her face into T.J.’s shoulder. The young man wasn’t sure who was shaking worse, the girl or himself. After a moment she recovered her composure. She stepped out of his embrace, but did not let go of his arm.
Richard gently shook himself loose from the professor. “When did you first encounter this creature?” he asked.
The professor thought for a moment. “After the dog followed me here. The dog.”
Richard knew how long Robbie had been stuck here, so he pressed the professor to narrow down the timeframe of Morgauth’s first appearance.
“It was… after I couldn’t return to my dimension,” the professor said.
Everyone noticed that if he concentrated before he spoke, Professor Ish did not repeat himself.
“If Morgauth is intent on attacking,” Lazarus said, as he drew his recently recovered six-shooter, “let us see if he is prepared for our defenses.”
Standing sideways, the gunslinger raised his pistol and drew a bead on one of the monster’s eyes. As he gently squeezed the trigger, Richard felt the briefest hint mystic energy build then vanish as the bullet exploded from the barrel. An instant later, Morgauth’s many mouths screeched in pain as one of its eyes exploded.
For just a moment, Morgauth paused.
“Mirrors!” the professor shouted suddenly.
“What about the mirrors?” Richard asked.
“I think Morgauth wants me to open the mirrors.”
Not having heard Robbie’s story, T.J., Kelli, and Lazarus were a bit confused. Richard read their expressions and related the robot dog’s story to them.
Kelli said, “This Morgauth wants you to open these mirrors so it can escape to Earth.”
Van Ish nodded.
“We can’t let that happen,” T.J. said.
“No, we can’t,” Lazarus said as he fired another successful shot at the creature. “The question is: what do we do to stop it?”
With the exception of Lazarus, all eyes turned to Richard.
“Keep Morgauth distracted, Mr. Lane,” Richard said. “I think I might have an idea.”